A lingering question that has come across my desk at least a dozen times lately is, “Dr. Shepherd, what are you recommending that schools do about the Ebola crisis?” My response is simple – the same thing that I recommended for schools during the pandemic influenza crisis – make a plan and follow that plan.
The current Ebola situation should be an exercise of biological incident planning for schools. Although, we have not seen US schools completely affected (although there have been a few scares), it is important that school officials begin meeting with local and state public health entities to form a plan of action. There are a few things that schools can do now to prepare for Ebola (and subsequently prepare for the upcoming flu season):
- Begin/continue universal health precautions campaigns. Hand washing is still a great infection control method.
- Establish and practice disinfecting/decontamination guidelines for all school facilities including support buildings, school buses, and other transportation vehicles.
- Developing NIMS (National Incident Management System) compliant protocols, location, equipment and staff assignments. School nurses are the front line people and should be a part of the command staff if not incident commanders of biological incident for schools.
- Encouraging parents to have alternative child care plans should closures be necessary in containment and building disinfection/decontamination efforts.
- Developing a mental health plan for students and staff, in conjunction with local mental health services staff to implement during an incident. Do not forget that fear, anxiety and panic should be expected and it is important that plans are in place to communicate facts adequately.
It is unlikely that a full blown outbreak will happen, but maintaining a state of readiness for Ebola will prepare all schools and youth based organizations for almost any public health emergency.
For more on this topic, sign up for our newsletter and look for the issue that we will be releasing this week with more detailed information on planning and preparedness for Ebola and other outbreaks. You can also catch my interview with Campus Safety Magazine here!